In the middle of last year, I had to travel to the CALABARZON provinces for work. In the middle of this, I was invited to take a side trip to Candelaria, Quezon to visit Radel Matibag, a young farmer who had just returned from an exposure program in Japan.
But what isn’t in the article is what a fun visit that was. When we got to Radel’s aunt’s house, the meeting place, we were treated to a really delicious lunch of tinolang manok, ginataang fried tilapia, and steaming hot white rice. Everything was either harvested o the farm or bought from nearby.
The tinola was sweet from the papaya and the chicken meat. The fish was crisp on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside, the coconut sauce adding a layer of umami to the dish. The rice was the type of rice that tasted so good you could eat it on its own. Or maybe that’s just me. I had a short phase when I was a child when I would eat nothing but white rice because I liked the way it tasted on its own, so it’s what I use to describe rice that I really like. Thankfully, my and my companions’ eating preferences complemented each others’. I went for the broth, green papaya, and fish and they went for the chicken.
Afterwards, Radel took us to the farms he looked after, as well as to see his own personal crops and one of two cows awarded to him via government grant.
Later, we were sent off with freshly picked pomelos from his budding citrus farm a five gallon jug of freshly distilled lambanog, the coconut liquor Quezon is known for.
Lambanog is a distilled palm liquor that has a very high alcohol content, around 80-90 proof. It was developed in the 1500s during the Spanish colonization when distillation technologies were used on local liquor. It is made by collecting sap from the coconut flower, fermenting it into tuba, a coconut toddy that dates back to the pre-colonial era, which is distilled into lambanog. It’s a clear, smooth-tasting liquid that leaves a trail of fire as it washes down your throat, followed by the aftertaste of coconut. It’s delicious.
Of all the farm products I have had the honor to receive or taste, this has got to be the best one. People forget that without agriculture, we would all have to go through life sober.
But those are not the reasons I am writing about him on this blog. The reason I am writing about this trip is because I asked Radel if he had encountered anything supernatural on the farm. His answer was quick and direct. He said that there aren’t any spirits in the countryside because they were all in the city, where all the old houses are. Candelaria town has many old houses, some dating back to WWII.
He didn’t expound on it, but it was enough to make me wonder about the logic behind it. Do buildings make it easier to record emotions that result in residual hauntings? Do densely populated area result in more wandering souls? Or do spirits gravitate towards areas with more dark corners to hide in, like say an old house versus an open field? I also don’t know if he was just referring to ghosts in particular, or if his statement included other beings such as elementals. I wanted to follow up on that, but it was time to head back.
These are questions to ponder the next time I get the chance to ask someone in a rural area about the spirits there.
Now that I think about it, Radel was wrong. There are spirits in the fields, but not the kind I was asking about. They’re the kind distilled from the coconut, the fruit of what is known as the Tree of Life. They don’t haunt by going ‘boo,’ but by leaving a trail of fire down your throat, a warmth that is both repellent and seductive. The kind he sent us home with in a five gallon water jar, clear but fiery, bravery in liquid form. I may not have returned with ghost stories, but we were sent home with something better.